I am going to change the names of the children, but otherwise keep the details in place. If she's reading this and thinks "Why, I met Quinn Cummings on Sunday!", this is about you.
My family went to a swimming and grilling party at a friends' house. We were told there would be other children. Daughter was pleased but, frankly, after hearing the words "Swimming pool", we could have said "There will be little-girl-eating tigers! And vaccination needles!", and she still would have been in a glorious haze of chlorine lust.
We arrived at the house to be greeted by the host and hostesses' new dog, a Goldendoodle. For those who think I stole that name from a Sid and Marty Kroft Saturday-morning show involving psychedelic mushrooms who sing, a Goldendoodle is a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Poodle. This particular Goldendoodle is about a year old, newly adopted, and came with her own instruction manual. The dog has a code word for peeing, if you can believe it. You walk her. You say the magic word. She pees. Our last dog, Polly, also had a peeing code word: it was "NO! (EXPLETIVE)! NO! YOU IDIOT!” and it was said while she was peeing on the kitchen floor. In spite of the Goldendoodle’s Mensa level of awareness and knowledge, she was friendly and down-to-earth, besides being capable of discussing the Greek Stoic school of philosophy. She approached everyone with a wagging tail and an open expression. Needless to say, we non-Goldendoodle owners were impressed.
A while after we arrived, the other couple with children arrived. The first sense I had of them in the back yard was a piercing whine.
I looked up quickly, prepared to help. Apparently, someone was being attacked by a thousand enraged bees while being stripped of their tendons. What in fact had happened was the older child had come through the back door and the dog had trotted up to him. The boy's mother, following behind, comforted him and said to those of us who were about to run up with flaming sticks and pitchforks, "He's a little afraid of dogs".
I nodded sympathetically. I've known kids who were afraid of dogs, and while I didn’t have that particular phobia, I certainly sympathized. If something more than half my size ran towards me with a mouth full of sharp teeth, I'd probably notch up the adrenaline as well.
Because we arrived in Consort’s car, which isn’t equipped with the Sporting Goods inventory found in my trunk, daughter was swimming without her beloved goggles. This was limiting her ability to fully emulate the entire Cousteau clan underwater so she was skirting the edge of a minor sulk. The other mother lent me a pair of goggles, which helped everyone’s mood considerably. I say all this because I am about to start eye-rolling, and I want to make sure I've given her all the credit she deserves.
Her older son, the dog-fearer, was a little older than Daughter. Her younger son was slightly younger. For privacy's sake, let's call the older one Josh and the younger one Tim. Or, as she would call them: " Joshyyyyyyyyyyyyy " and "Timmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy".
As frightened of the dog as the older one was, the younger wasn’t frightened at all. In fact, he was most anxious to play with the dog. Of course, “Playing” looked an awful lot like “Getting the Styrofoam pool-noodle soaking wet and then flinging it at the dog -- who was already overexcited and racing around the pool—while managing to get the poolside adults wet as well, shrieking like a maniac and doing it again”.
Now, full disclosure; Daughter has, on occasion, done things of Quinn-rubs-the-bridge-of-her-nose-in-irritation in public, things I had never expressly forbidden simply because it never occurred to me she would do something so weird, so random and so loud. When such events have broken out, my degree of escalation has gone like this:
1. Scary Mother Look with a quickly mouthed “Stop that now”. Yes, I can mouth in italics. If behavior continues,
2. Short private conversation, lasting all of two sentences, which goes something like “If (asocial behavior in question) continues, we’re leaving”. If she can’t hear me over the cupcake frosting coursing through her veins,
3. We leave.
One vividly horrible day, we drove twenty miles to attend a school fair, stayed ten minutes and had to leave. There’s no scrapbook page dedicated to that ride home.
In sum, any parent who is actually in the trenches knows undesirable behavior can erupt at any time, usually around strangers and in public. I have a couple of friends with kids who have emotional delays or situations where these kids look pretty bratty if you don’t know their medical condition. Those parents, however, are never more than a few feet from these kids and are constantly mediating for them, negotiating with them, teaching them how to live in the world. If your kid is having a rocky time of it, but you are right there working with them, I send a quick prayer to you, I encourage Daughter to cut the kid some slack, and I wouldn’t presume to judge.
I did, however, judge when the mother of the shrieking noodle-wielder said “Timmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, stooooooooooooop”, in a small die-away voice more reminiscent of a tire slowly leaking than a human voice issuing a warning. For nearly an hour, we around the pool got sprayed, Timmy jumped in and out of the pool, the dog raced around faster and faster, the older son screamed if the dog got too close to him (which was relative, considering the boy was in the middle of the pool on a raft and the dog was on dry land), and the mother wheezed “Timmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, stooooooooooooop”.
Those of us standing around the pool blotting our pants were learning what Timmy had known for years; as far as maternal weapons went, this was it. He raced on.
(Where was the father, you might ask? The father was enjoying a nice conversation with another adult. I’m guessing he’s one of those “Your aimless whining seems to have things under control. Ooh, guacamole!” fathers.)
Mid-afternoon, I had to make a run to the grocery store to get myself veggie-burgers. When I came back a few minutes later, Daughter was wrapped in a towel by the side of the pool. I looked at her questioningly.
“Daddy said I couldn’t go in until you got back,” she shivered.
“I’m back.” I said, gesturing toward the pool, which was now empty. Since I had left, both boys had gotten out and had been given Diet Coke. Because that’s what they needed; caffeine.
The meal-time was a relentless parade of boneheaded choices by the children and ineffective curtailments by the mother. The only part which was new was that now both boys were participating.
“I’m going to take my hot dog in the pool!”
“The dog wants to come in the pool with me!”
“Look, I fit through the dog door!”
“I can balance this soda can on my nose while standing in the pool, wanna see?”
(Horrible, piercing scream) “I’M STUCK IN THE DOG DOOR!”
I must admit, I liked that one.
Having been freed from the dog door, Josh considered the spacious lawn and pool area and decided he couldn’t rest unless he walked between my lawn chair and the pool, a space about two inches wide. This was accomplished by much bumping of my chair. A minute later, he walked back that way. Another minute, another pass-by. The next time he passed, he got to the edge of my lawn chair, suddenly grabbed his foot, and fell on to the ground screaming in pain. His mother rushed up.
“Sweetheart, what is it?” she wailed. I was interested to note she could speak without whining.
He stood up with much flinching, screamed, “I stubbed my TOE!”, and fell across my lawn chair, sobbing. I moved my legs so his caffeinated tears wouldn’t stain my new Lilly Pulitzer pants.
His mother looked around in horror.
“He stubbed his toe. What can we do?” she asked the universe.
Seeing that his mother had no cure and had given his care up to God, he wailed louder. She scooped up her son, prepared to run if need be to the nearest trauma unit. Holding a sobbing child, she leaned over to me and said in a martyred tone, “You might want to move that chair back a bit, so people can walk around it.”
I made a big show of looking behind the chair, where the length of the lawn lay, perfect for walking. However, irony is lost on a woman who performing Extreme Unction on her child, dying of a stubbed toe.
We left shortly thereafter. I complimented the hosts on their lovely party and silently commended them on their forbearance, which might have had something to do with the Indifferent Father being a client of the host. We said goodbye to the Goldendoodle; I waved weakly at the other family from the back door. Looking down, I noted the dog door was now broken from Josh’s adventures in canine living.
As we walked through the front yard, I commended Daughter on her good behavior.
“Actually,” Consort said, “your daughter got in a little trouble. When you were at the store, I went inside and told her to get out of the pool until I came back.”
I nodded. Daughter is a good swimmer, and there were adults outside, but there was no harm erring on the side of caution. Daughter danced ahead of us, not too eager to discuss this infraction again.
“Well,” he continued, “when I came outside again, she was back in the pool. We had a little chat and then I said she couldn’t get back into the pool until you returned.”
“Oh, really.” I said warningly, trotting a little faster to catch up with my miscreant offspring. Consort caught my arm.
“I don’t think you need to cover it again. She seemed to get it. You might find this funny, though. When I came back out, that other mother was telling her kids how some parents don’t watch their children as closely as she watched hers.”
“No.”, I said flatly, as Daughter clambered into the car and Consort put our beach bag in the trunk.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, casually. He shut the trunk and saw my expression. Obviously fearing for this woman’s well-being, he added quickly, “Maybe she wasn’t talking about us.”
“Right,” I said through clenched teeth, and slid into the car. I turned around to Daughter, already knee-deep in the newest Harry Potter.
I murmured to Consort, “I’d sooner see her behave like that dog than any member of Josh and Timmy’s family. “
Consort said, “Quiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin, stooooooooooooop.”, in perfect imitation of that odious woman. I flinched. He grinned and said, “Too soon?”
“Oh, yes.” I hissed.
We drove off.